Your Blog vs. The World:
7 Steps To Winning The War for Attention

The World

You didn’t realize you were at war, did you?

Oh, but you are.

In fact, you’re fighting battles on four fronts simultaneously.

  1. You’re in a battle for visitors. The blogosphere is full of people who have put out their welcome mats and are hoping for somebody, anybody, to stop by and take a look around. Lots of passersby think about it, but very few of them decide to come inside. They’re busy, my friend. Places to go, people to see.
  2. You’re in a battle for subscribers. Just because somebody happens to click through to your blog doesn’t mean they’re going to think you’re worthy of their subscription. That’s like working your way onto somebody’s speed dial list. Many contend for the honor but only a select few make it.
  3. You’re in a battle against everybody else in the feed reader and inbox. Just because they subscribed to your blog doesn’t mean they’re actually going to read it. Oh, if only it were so easy! Your average reader doesn’t have enough mental bandwidth to read all of the blogs they’ve subscribed to, so what they do is scan the latest headlines and click the ones that look the most interesting.
  4. And finally, you’re in a battle against anything that distracts your reader from making it all the way through your content. This is a big one. Here, you’re at war against the world. You’re up against the child that knocked over her apple juice onto the rug, the dog barking to go outside, the phone ringing at work, and the e-mail that just arrived in their inbox.

It’s kind of scary, if you think about it. Just because you write a great post doesn’t mean anyone is going to hear about it, and even if they hear about it, there’s no guarantee that they’ll start reading it, and even if they start reading it, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll never finish it. Not because it isn’t good and useful and worthy to be read, but because it isn’t interesting enough to win the war for their attention.

My advice: play to win. Here’s a battle plan for getting your posts read from start to finish:

1. Map the Terrain: The Frustrations and Desires of the Audience

When going into battle, a smart general doesn’t take a gun. He brings a map. Yes, guns and soldiers and tactics are important, but knowledge of the battlefield is a prerequisite to positioning all of those guns and soldiers and tactics appropriately. Whoever best masters the geography has an enormous advantage over their opponent.

Similarly, you won’t find most successful bloggers agonizing over their writing. They do, however, watch every comment and link that comes into their blog and fret about how well they’re connecting with their audience. It’s not because they’re vain; they just know it’s essential to keep their finger on the pulse of their readership. They want to know what gets people’s hearts pumping and what puts them to sleep.

So should you. After a couple months of blogging, you should be able to make a strategic content plan that lists everything your audience cares about. If you can’t, be prepared to have your ass kicked by somebody who understands your market better than you do.

2. Know Your Allies: What Will Other Bloggers Link to?

Writing a post and hoping someone will link to it is like going to war and hoping your allies will show up. In other words, it’s stupid. If you’re going to go to the effort of producing truly great content, then you should know in advance who is going to link to it and why.

How are you supposed to know?

It all comes down to building relationships. Before going to war, kings of old would spend months or even years befriending allies and forming bonds. Similarly, you should spend at least a few months getting to know all of the other bloggers in your niche before expecting any of them to help you. Otherwise, you’ll find no one linking to your best posts, and you’ll wonder why.

3. Pick the Right Bait: An Irresistible Headline

Sometimes, headline writing reminds me of trying to catch raccoons.

If you grew up in the country, you probably know that you can chase raccoons all over the place, and you’ll never catch them. You might actually get attacked because… well… raccoons don’t like being chased. Of course, accomplished raccoon hunters don’t try to chase them. They merely build a trap and lure the raccoon into it with something shiny, usually a piece of tinfoil.

It’s a coldhearted analogy, but getting traffic works the same way. People on the web don’t like being interrupted by ads that demand their attention. It annoys them. If, on the other hand, you offer them a nice, shiny headline that attracts their attention, then they’re more than happy to click through to your blog. That’s when you can spring the trap with your opening paragraphs:

4. Spring the Trap: Opening Paragraphs That Don’t Let Go

So, you’ve attracted people to your blog with the marketing equivalent of tinfoil, and you’re ecstatic to actually have visitors. It means the war is over, right? You win. Hooray!

Actually… that’s not what it means at all.

The moment anyone visits your blog, they immediately fall under siege from all kinds of other shiny, interesting things demanding their attention. There are all kinds of links, fancy banners from sponsors, and comments to look at, plus real-life distractions like the ones I mentioned above. Chances are, a large percentage of your visitors never even get around to reading the post that attracted them. So, really, you lose.

That’s why you need to spring the trap as soon as you have their attention. Prepare a few opening paragraphs that aren’t just interesting; they’re so compelling that the visitor is afraid to look away from the screen. Then and only then do you get to deliver what matters most: your compelling copy.

5. Prepare Your Weapons: Hit Them With Compelling Copy

Once you have their attention, hit ‘em with all you’ve got. Tell them a story, show them how they’re making a mistake, teach them how to do something better, whatever — just be compelling. I like to imagine my reader with her mouth hanging open and drool collecting at the corner of her mouth. That’s the effect we’re going for.

Think I’m being a little extreme? I’m not.

Grabbing attention with an irresistible headline and opening paragraph and then letting them run away is silly. Don’t do that! The best fighters (and marketers) are unmerciful. It’s not because they’re cruel; it’s because, if they miss their shot, it may very well be their last. The same couldn’t be more true for blogging.

6. Create an Exit: End with a Call to Action

I read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War a long time ago, and while I’ve forgotten most of it, I remember this: always give your enemy an exit. Your visitors are not really the enemy, but the advice is still applicable.

All too often, bloggers close their post with a metaphorical dead end. They give their last point, and that’s it. Nothing more to see, show’s over, everybody can go home. And that’s exactly what happens. People click away from your blog and lots of them never come back.

Smart bloggers give their readers actionable exits. You’ll notice that almost every post here at Copyblogger gives you a link to one of our projects, the RSS subscription page, or a twitter account. There is a reason for that. We know you’re going to leave, but we hope to guide you on how to leave.

Think about it.

7. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat: The War for Attention Never Ends

You’d think the war for attention would have an end, that one day you’ll be big enough where you never have to worry about losing the attention of your audience, and you can relax a little bit. Take Copyblogger, for instance. With all of our readers and traffic and links, surely we must have won by now, right?

I wish.

The war for attention never ends. Even if you capture the attention of every reader interested in your topic, you’ll still have to battle off a constant stream of competitors that would take them away from you. Your visibility is both an asset and a liability. Yes, it gives you power, but it also makes you a target. Lose focus, and you can lose everything.

If you think about it, the opposite is also true though. Just because you lost the war for attention today doesn’t mean you have to lose tomorrow. You can turn things around at any time. Best of all, now you have a battle plan that shows you exactly how to do it.

Of course, there are probably some things that we haven’t told you, right? Some real secrets that we’re holding close to the vest?

Maybe. You never know. One thing’s for sure: if we have our way, you’ll be a reader of Copyblogger until the end of time.

Go ahead and sign up for free Copyblogger updates, if you haven’t already. It’s risk free. Honest.

You can unsubscribe any time you like… but you can never leave.

Muahahaha. :)

About the Author: Jon Morrow is Associate Editor of Copyblogger, co-founder of Partnering Profits, and dispenser of bad Hotel California jokes. Get more of him on twitter.

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Comments

  1. As usual, another great article and great links within the article that will lead to other great articles :)

  2. Thanks Jon.
    This has given me something to ponder on over the weekend.

    Point 1 is right on about making a strategic content plan, you realy do need to know about your own niche, which is why I think you shouldn’t try to cover a wide area in the single blog. If you try to cover too much of an area, there is no chance you will be regarded as knowledgeable in the niche. A Jack of all trades is a master of none.

  3. Great thoughts Jonathan! The war analogy in fact can be applied to every big and small task we carry out in life: knowing where to hit what and how hard, makes a big difference.

  4. Really great thanks for the article. It’ll absolutely change the way I’m blogging and using it for some bis stuff.

    Thanks again.

  5. @Manshu – Yep, that goes back to point #6. :-)

    @Garry: Sometimes, that’s true. I think it all comes down to how well you understand your audience though, regardless of how big it is. If you can speak to a big audience as well as you can a small one, then go for the big one.

  6. So here’s a question…

    I’ve been reading Copyblogger for a long time, maybe two years now. I know Brian used to or possibly still practices law and obviously provides fantastic content and is a valuable educational resource, but is that it?

    Does Brian advertise any type of services that I’ve missed? Speaking engagements… content writing, anything? His affiliation with Pearson for wordpress themes can’t be everything.

    I can’t imagine that he does all of this out of the kindness of his heart. He has to pay the bills somehow, right? The actionable exit can’t be more content all the time, could it?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  7. Great advice. I’ve found blog writing to have some similarities to journalism, but also some differences.

    Regarding the headlines, I think some folks get caught up in writing them for search engines and as a result don’t catch the potential reader’s attention.

    Re: Exit strategy. Excellent technique. Reminds me of the old inverted pyramid. You put the important stuff first because folks could stop reading anytime. Even better if you give them a place to go when they leave.

    Thanks for the excellent insights.

  8. Web Design Greenville (interesting name), I guess I should answer that. I no longer practice law at all (thankfully). I also don’t do any consulting.

    The combination of Copyblogger, Teaching Sells & Thesis alone will bring in close to $3 million in revenue this year based on current performance. The content we produce for Copyblogger is the engine that drives the whole enterprise.

    The fact that I don’t go around bragging about how much money I make like some do doesn’t mean it’s not happening. :)

  9. Excellent post. You are very right about the war for people’s attention. Readers’ attentions are being pulled from all directions on and off the web.

    You’re definitely right about not only needing to capture subscribers but readers. I definitely don’t read every post for each blog I subscribe to, I just don’t have time (although Copy Blogger is doing a great job at keeping me reading!).

  10. @Web Design Greenville: No, it’s certainly not altruism. The reason why we give so much content away for free is it gets attention and keeps people interested. Over time, it also builds trust. That way, we can point readers to the occasional valuable resource (Thesis, Teaching Sells, affiliate offers, etc.), and lots of folks will buy.

    As Brian says, it’s very profitable. From a dollars per hour standpoint, he makes much more money than your average attorney, speaker, writer, or consultant. The rest of us aren’t doing so badly either. :-)

  11. Jon,

    This is pretty much the most kick-ass title I’ve seen. I feel awesome just reading it. ;-)

  12. Hey! nice post. Right to the point. I hadn’t thought about some of those things.

  13. Very nice Jon Tzu!

    And remember, sometimes the general only has pieces to the overall map, like a puzzle (Partnering Profits, hint, hint) and might need to call upon other 5-star generals.

  14. Jon Morrow :

    Ahh, very good point, General Shane. :-)

  15. Good article, love the whole war analogy. Its great, not only are there clear instructions, but the article itself is actually a demonstration of how to implement them. Fantastic!

  16. bloggingiswar.com is available. Quick, somebody grab it!

  17. Fantastic post… I fully agree with the idea that it is an battle for attention. I’m always watching my links and subscriber counts but I’ve also in the process of purging the huge number of inputs crowding my reader so I see both sides very clearly.

    I need to step up my tactics… thanks for the thought provoking materials

    Dave

  18. Ha, I am so calling Jon “Jon Szu” from now on.

    Despite my hippie aversion to military language, this is a kickass post. ;)

  19. Yes, it’s true. There is much competition for attention both in the offline and online worlds (in the offline world alone we’re allegedly hit with somewhere in the vicinity of 3000 messages per day). Great strategies General Jon. May the best map toting, racoon catching General win!

  20. The metaphor of war is appropriate when you consider the masses of bloggers and content marketers now filling the web. If content is king, then attention is certainly queen.

    The only question I’d raise with this post and with Copyblogger in general is does all written blog content have to be considered “copy?”

    What about bloggers who use their personal voice and style to capture attention, and then sell their products using good copy? Can this method be just as effective?

    I just gave myself a post idea…thanks!

  21. Oh, yes, I’m with Sonia…this is a kickass post. Thanks Jon and Brian.

  22. As a reader, what keeps my attention on a blog it’s that I perceive there’s a person behind it. I’m interested in reading posts like this because they surely have value in what they communicate, but they also feel real.

  23. Right on,Good post

  24. LOVED it! Fabulous article. You sure practise what you preach, Jonathan. I was transfixed. P. :)

  25. Thanks, Jonathan!
    I’ve been wondering how to spell “Muahahaha” for my next evil marketing plan at my Blog for artists.

  26. Excellent article with great information and links to follow. I must admit though — that by far my favorite was the analogy of raccoon hunting. As a city kid, I had no clue what you were talking about or even going to say. But true on many levels — readers/subscribers/potential clients you can try to chase them, but what you need to do is lure them in. Like the raccoon, readers/subscribers/potential clients also become annoyed with the ‘run around’ they don’t like the ads, and meaningless dribble containing empty or shallow promises. I guess the only difference between raccoons and our audience is the audience don’t attack, they just leave and never return.

  27. Probably the most important thing these days is the headline. You need one that grabs attention in tweets, in the RSS and in our archives. When I’m looking at 250 RSS links, the ones with the compelling headlines get read. The rest, get deleted.

  28. At first glance, this sounds pretty difficult to do but when you get the hang of it, the tips that you gave is a powerful way to “win the war.” Love your post.

  29. The most valuable advise in my opinion was that bloggers need to have an irresistible headline. The moment someone sees a title like – 7 steps to win the war for attention, half the battle is won. The other half, I guess, depends on the bloggers skill to hold his audience till the end of the post.

  30. A valuable post and an interesting read. It is true that catchy headlines and an interesting first paragraph will all hold the attention of the reader, but the fact still remains that the reader of today is short of time. Except for a few dedicated readers the rest are browse and move kind of readers. When they see a long post spanning about 7-8 paragraphs, they would just browse through to pick some important words from the post and move on. They would seldom read the closing paragraphs or, the call-to-action in it. So the average stay of a reader at a blog is very short and in this short span of time you need to put forward whatever you want to say.
    Hence I feel a short post of about 3-4 paragraphs with certain bold words (of course, catchy and important ones relevant to the post) will help you keep a reader on your page at least till the end of the post. A catchy headline like the one for this post, will sure add to it by drawing in the required attention.

  31. Wow that’s an awesome artcile,blogging is compared to battling it’s reallya battle to keep readers coming to your blog .

  32. Thanks for these tips on improving my posts to actually get people to read them. I will certainly try improving my headlines and first paragrahs. I bookmarked this on StumbleUpon. (Found you through Twitter.)

  33. Re Inbox and Feedreader scanners:

    From magazines and classified to blogs. Media changes, but the copywriter is always in a headline competition!

  34. great post

  35. “Know Your Allies: What Will Other Bloggers Link to” ..this is I think is most important one to concentrate upon.

  36. One thing leading to the other. This is the one thing I definitely understood here in this post. This clearly is more than a road map, it is also a bloGPS (blog GPS), where you guide your visitors through the post with a nice and gentle exit.

    Things is, you forgot to say that your exit door is never close. It is always open and that is why people come back for more.

  37. Great post – I love it and it is in my tagged posts with good avices. Using the war metaphor makes it interesting but I think the meat is in the steps. Recently I read book for presentations and some of the advices you give were also in that book. Your blog is presentation bt you are just not present – you need to do good job creating compelling story and making people come back.

  38. It’s a great post. I think if I keep working down I will lost.

  39. Great post and I love the war metaphor. Sometimes thinking about this when preparing a blog post will make me change the copy. Often in the hustle and bustle of blogging you can foget to be strategic and focus on what you’re trying to say rather than HOW you are saying it. Thanks for the timely reminder

  40. Very good article. Fundamental insights. Great writing. It inspires me instantly to review some of my old posts to do them better.
    Thanks.

  41. Outstanding post! I have bookmarked your post for future reference. What you said are true and it’s important that you know your competition and what to do about it.

  42. WHAT WILL OTHER BLOGGER LINK TO is a HUUUGE one. And that’s the really tough part–to get links to the pieces you want people to link to. But once you figure out that rigamarole, you’re set. It’s all about creating great content, but not looking like your baiting. It’s a tough line, and one I’m really trying to figure out.

    It’s all about providing value. Thanks for this very well thought out article. I may just link to it. :)

  43. Great post, with very good points. Thanks!

  44. Good post! Comparing blogging to war is a good way to go. I’m a copywriter for an SEO compnany and I find your blog a source of much inspiration. Keep it up!

  45. WOW! great article.. thanks jon (^,^)

  46. Very well written article. That’s right, you’re at war everyday trying to get people’s attention. Especially on the Internet, people tend to have short attention span, so it’s important to have a killer headline.

    Tom

  47. For a newbie like me, this post is a bit intimidating, if not downright discouraging – you know, David and Goliath. It did, though, provide some better weapons than a slingshot.

  48. Excellent aticle, I most heartily agree with the importance of building relationships. And as I struggle to build my own blog’s success I realize that I must make much more use of building exits and calling my readers to action. Thanks for the great article – stuff I can really use!

  49. A great headline with attention getting bold words, bullets for scanning, good content and for the last call to action for your readers -excellent advice!

  50. Jon,

    Sometimes hyperbole is needed to keep yourself motivated. Obviously this isn’t a war in the strictest sense, but at its core it is a battle for attention and you have to have the best strategies to survive. You bring this out wonderfully, and like all good war plans, make it seem like this war is nothing more than a solvable problem in search of someone willing to solve it.

  51. Oh, yes, I’m with Sonia…this is a kickass post. Thanks Jon and Brian.